Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

1.6. The Unifying Method of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences: The Method of Transdisciplinarity
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Josephine Papst (Graz)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

International Relations and its Languages: A Transdisciplinary Perspective

Paul Ghils (Editor of Transnational Associations and Lecturer at the Haute Ecole de Bruxelles/Institut supérieur de traducteurs et interprètes, Belgium)



The need to understand and possibly explain the developments of a globalised but diversified world implies a critical approach to International Relations as a discipline. Its purpose should be to highlight the conceptual needs as well as the inadequacies of current conceptual and terminological tools. Against this background, the transdisciplinary approach is an attempt to not only express emerging realities, but also to fashion new realities through renewed interpretations. It is confronted with what has become a twin obstacle: the rational ordering of academic disciplines, and the fragmentation of knowledge resulting from their excessive specialization and the associated lack of communication among autonomous subjects. Both the uncritical deployment of a rational, universalistic ordering of the world and the indulging into an anarchical drift implicitly driven by power games require a critical method. As a fundamental response to the problem involved in the building and the expression of knowledge, the transdisciplinary method is designed as a "reasonable", albeit potential tool, to integrate fragmented bodies of knowledge and erratic modes of communication. It departs from an exclusively rational way, on which scientific disciplines and enquiry have been largely based for the last four centuries.


Although the history of political thought and specifically international relations has undergone significant advances in recent decades, International Relations as an academic discipline has stuck to an often outdated epistemology and methodology, avoiding the complexities involved with a more global approach to the pace and space of international processes. True, in the 1990s scholars emphasized the weakening of states as the global order's traditional foundations. In the late 20th century, many countries, often those born of decolonization, appeared to lack the traditional features of states - reliable institutions, social cohesion, or national consciousness. But the end of communist regimes in Europe paradoxically gave rise to a revival of states associated with the rebirth of nationalism. In other parts of the world, ethnic, religious or cultural minorities that were or considered themselves oppressed demanded independence. In Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Haiti, autocratic or theocratic states rulers crushed dissension or waged open warfare against their own subjects. Some of the crisis that broke out strengthened the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions, at the expense of international legal principles of national sovereignty and non-intervention. At the same time, "international civil society" claimed a bigger role in reshaping world order in association with states and inter-state organizations, while demanding from these that they check the increasing influence of multinational corporations, another category of non-state actors. The world picture has consequently become increasingly complex and paradoxical, resulting in tensions among states and within inter-state organizations, the strengthening of some states and the fragmentation of others, the challenges to the state system and the quest for a new multilateralism, the advances of economic globalisation and political integration often curbed internationally by the resurgence of nationalism and domestically by ethnic tensions and local interests.


Moving Actors in a fragmented World

Public international law, as it is conceived today, emphasizes the prominent position of subjects of international law as the main actors in international relations and, therefore, in international law. The subjects are those entities which are the addressees of international legal rules or norms, the bearers of international obligations and rights. These subjects now include states and international organizations, with the peculiarity that states grant international rights to and impose international obligations on the IGOs, which implies that states remain the original subjects of international law. Another peculiarity is that the very subjects of international law, viz. the states, are also the entities that create international law, either through state conduct (practice) leading to custom, or through interstate agreements or treaties. Up to this point, we can say that states are clearly at the centre of the international scene.

However, in the recent decades non-state entities have been granted, whether legally or de facto, the status of actors in the international system. Some of them, like the Holy Sea, were even granted the status of subjects of international law. Most of the others have played a role stemming from the Charter of the UN (article 71), which recognises their relevance through a "consultative status". In addition to their active role on the international arena in a many fields, NGOs have actively contributed to the development of international law in the field of human rights, scientific research, environmental matters and many more. More generally, they are now fully involved in norm formation and political decision-making through formal or informal processes. These developments have led to the concept of an international law conceived as cosmopolitical, i.e. based on interpretations granting equal status to all parties involved, decentred from any particular vision.

A second category of non-state entities is MNCs, which have also been proclaimed as new actors on the international scene as new agents of economic development, this time quite unofficially. Their action is now so significant that they are the most active agents of globalisation, to such an extent that even the UN has tried to control their influence by setting the Global Compact, a loose UN policy of rapprochement with the business community, to which some NGOs responded by arguing "that corporate influence at the UN is already too great, and that new partnerships are leading down a slippery slope toward the partial privatisation and commercialization of the UN system itself" (TRAC, 2000)(1).

To this we could or should many more categories, such as liberation and other national movements, social, ethnic and cultural movements, criminal networks including maffias and terrorist groups, which have often adopted legal associational forms.

The variety of international actors has naturally brought the question of the erosion of state sovereignty, whether it comes from civil or uncivil society organisations. In this respect, a new concern emerged in 1989, when it appeared that the political systems of three centuries came to an end in Europe: the balance of power and the imperial urge. That year marked not just the end of the Cold War, but also, and more significantly, the end of a state system in Europe which dated from the Thirty Years War. The resurgence of ethnic tensions, the creation of new nations-states and 11 September showed us some of the implications of the change.

International order used to be based either on hegemony or on balance. At the beginning of the 20th century, the international system was based largely on two epochal events in European history: the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15. The Congress of Vienna and the treaty that emerged from it sanctified balance-of-power as the dynamic of choice for the international system. That was, and remains, a very European idea.

Hegemony came first. In the ancient world, order meant empire. Those within the empire had order, culture and civilisation. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder. The image of peace and order through a single hegemonic power centre has remained strong ever since. Empires, however, are ill-designed for promoting change. Holding the empire together - and it is the essence of empires that they are diverse - usually requires an authoritarian political style; innovation, especially in society and politics, would lead to instability. Historically, empires have generally been static. In Europe, a middle way was found between the stasis of chaos and the stasis of empire, namely the small state. True, the small state succeeded in establishing sovereignty, but only within a geographically limited jurisdiction. Thus domestic order was purchased at the price of international anarchy. The competition between the small states of Europe was a source of progress, but the system was also constantly threatened by a relapse into chaos on one side and by the hegemony of a single power on the other. The solution to this was the balance of power, a system of counter-balancing alliances which became seen as the condition of liberty in Europe. Progress was made possible within this system, which preserve their sovereignty of small states between the authoritarian, static style of empires and the anarchy of excessive fragmentation.

However, an historical, contextualised form of the state cannot support a natural, universal conception which would be the inverted myth of security guaranteed by a strong state. The 20th century amply demonstrated that the small state is not a guarantee of peace, contrary to what Martin Korr(2) suggested after Rousseau's celebration of small and medium-sized communities, Gandhi's promotion of self-governed swadeshi and Schumacher's support for the economic and ecological myth of small is beautiful. But the pre-eminence of a strong state is no safer, as Eric Hobsbawm observed when he asked the question of how the world is to confront or to contain the US.

Whatever the features - small or big, imperial or federal, despotic or democratic - ascribed to the state when taken as the building block of IR, a contradiction arises whenever it is conferred an ontological identity: just like Vishnu's avatars, it incarnates age after age into so many figures that its final nature never appears as a definable, unified concept. There is the complex nature of today's world scene, about which Eric Hobsbawm observed that "our era is still one of nation-states - the only aspect of globalisation in which globalisation does not work."(3)

In so far as world players" interactions are a complex game, some classification may be useful, even though the state and the states system appear to be a moment in history. Robert Cooper has clearly categorized states into three big categories, the complex intermingling of different orders referred to as premodern, modern and post-modern(4), where:

- pre-modern: where the state has failed and the Hobbesian war of all against all is underway (Somalia, Congo, until recently Afghanistan)
Modern: Westphalia established the nation-state as the polity of choice for the next three and a half centuries. A nation state is a territory controlled by a single government and inhabited by a distinct population with a common culture that commands the loyalty and shapes the identity of its citizens. There remain modern states that behave according to Machiavellian principles and raison d'Etat (India, Pakistan, China)
Post-modern: based on
- a fuzzy distinction between domestic and foreign affairs;
- the irrelevance of borders;
- mutual interference and surveillance;
- in matters of security, transparency and mutual openness, interdependence and mutual vulnerability;
- the rejection of force for solving disputes; codification of self-enforced rules
(UE, Japan, Canada; International Criminal Court, Kyoto Protocol...)

A fourth category may be added if we agree with David Held, who thinks that more than a Hobbesian sovereign and contrary to Robert Kagan's remark, "the US is best perceived as pre-Hobbesian because it is a return to the state of nature". In this view, whereas Hobbes justified sovereign power in so far as it delivers security, "The US strategy does none of these things, endangering its citizens (especially abroad), further dividing and polarising international affairs, and weakening the international institutions of peace and justice."(5)

By those definitions, we can understand why there will be competition not so much among states as among different categories of states or state-like entities, which may lead to the destabilising of the world. The Middle East is just one example of this destabilisation -far more unstable now than it was 10 years ago, or five years ago. As a modern, imperial state, the US weakens all the alternative arrangements, formal and informal, for keeping order. In Europe it has wrecked the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by trying to turn it into a world military police force for the US in disguise. It has deliberately sabotaged the EU, and also systematically aims at ruining another of the great world achievements since 1945, prosperous democratic social welfare states. The widely perceived crisis over the credibility of the United Nations is less of a drama than it appears since the UN has never been a democratic and representative institution, and has generally been unable to do more than operate marginally because of its total dependence on the Security Council, and the use of the veto right of five powers.

As to the problematiques of "players in the international system", we can draw a few conclusions from the state of IR, which is far more complex and paradoxical than the over-simplified ideas of the demise of the state or the advent of a post-Westphalian, global civil society would evoke:

1. state sovereignty is being eroded in limited spheres, despite the proliferation of civil society actors and their increasing participation in international decision-making and norm formation;

2. the same process (through the International Criminal Court and other IGOs) paradoxically strengthens the state because the latter is the final guarantee that such treaties will be implemented;

3. In the same way, the pressure of uncivil society, sustained by criminal organisations of all kinds, enhances the need of states to protect both states and civil society for, as Martin Hall said, "Without Hobbes we may not have Locke but rather the jungle, as those who have lived without a state know all too well."(6)

4. Some states may in any case gain in strength, most obviously in the case of the United States (which may not be a nation-state in the Westphalian sense(7)), or in highly centralized China. In turn, these modern states will look for state partners to create what they think will be a safer world. But such partners, instead of other strong states, may be post-modern entities such as the European Union, which are precisely the Aufhebung, the "sublation" of those sovereign states that were the pillars of stability in Westphalian Europe. Furthermore, if weak states do not necessarily bring peace, strong states may elicit violence by the very authority they impose on dominated entities, as can be seen today in Iraq;

5. In an age of globalisation, sub-national entities, from local consumer groups to regional partnerships associations and associations of small or big cities, are hollowing out state powers from the bottom;

6. Ironically, one weakness of international civil society, if we admit its reality, is precisely the absence of a multilateral, inter-state entity that would play in the international sphere the role played by the liberal state in the gradual emergence of autonomous, domestic civil societies.

It appears from these processes that the state and the states system have never been an unambiguous concept usable for a scientific theory of IR. Even before the undermining of the inter-state system, which some historians would say had never existed(8), states as entities were no identities. We have learned from thinkers like Maffesoli, Touraine and Giddens not to reify societies defined by the boundaries of particular states(9). The vast and complex space opened to the study, the understanding and possibly the explanation of international relations cannot be corralled between "two views of human nature and two visions of knowledge" which, whether constrained or unconstrained, are more reminiscent of Medieval Sin and Grace, as Stephen Toulmin would say, than appropriate to the foundations of IR theory(10). The quest for fundamental laws of international processes traditionally associated with IR as a science is the doomed avatar of an outdated conception of science.

On the other side, comprehensive concepts used by the transnationalist school, such as "global civil society", run into symmetrical difficulties. For unlike the national level, there is no "global" or world government against which INGOs may be defined as a residual. If it is often averred that "international organizations have no demos of their own"(11), it can be symmetrically averred that the "transnational demos" has no political counterpoise that could act as a transnational polity. This severely restricts the assumptions of such moral cosmopolitans as John Rawls, who considers extending the moral cosmopolitan theory (previously confined to the domestic realm) to that of an international realm(12). The argument that a suitable principle can be justified by analogy with the justification given by Rawls in his Theory of Justice for an intrastate distributive principle is undermined by the ontological novelty of an asymmetrical transnational world. And even if there were sufficient cooperation on the inter-state level - assuming with Rawls that human rights are universal and therefore capable of crossing national and cultural boundaries, an admittedly reasonable argument - it would still remain to be shown that justice provides the motivation and grounds for fulfilling such cooperation through a renewed "law of the peoples", which obviously is not the case despite the rational feasibility of such a process.

Today, the problem is made even more complex with the intrusion of new political objects such as the European Union, which is even less definable as the state: Hegel considered Europe as the locus of a "struggle for recognition"; today, it is equally conceived of as an operation of remembering (Ricoeur's travail de mémoire), of working on stereotypes and representations; Europe is also a philosophical idea, a spiritual figure born in Greece as the locus of the invention of philosophy and science, a purely theoretical space. In the political sphere, Far from duplicating American federalism, it has been a transnational process from its origin - not only as a coexistence of nations or a convergence of national interests, but as the achievement of an extranational process, the accomplishment of otherness, "the realization of transnationalism"(13).


The very Idea of a Discipline

One cannot effectively discuss trans- (cross-, inter-, multi-, anti-, post-, etc.) disciplinarity without some assumptions about what constitutes a discipline in the first place. Disciplines were originally a response to the empirical uncertainties of scientists and the reasonable views of sceptic thinkers in the 16th century. The rational approach taken by Descartes and his followers, based on certain, objective truth and the disciplinary distribution of knowledge, has ironically culminated in today's hyper-specialization, a splitting up of knowledge and human experience which threatens to undermine the integrated understanding of their significance. As an academic discipline, IR is a recent subject conceived in Britain and the United States in the early 1920s with a practical task. It was the scientific understanding of the causes of war and of the conditions of peace. It had, therefore, a policy vocation, but it was closely linked to the political establishment, whether governmental or official opposition, which made it markedly unscientific. IR consequently results from a double drift, with consequences on both academic practices and the representations of the world it is assumed to depict: a strongly rationalist bias, and close relationships with the American political establishment(14).

However, after the long period over which transnational relations have been severely constrained ever since by the inter-state system known as «Westphalian», the complexity of international relations has made it necessary to promote interdisciplinary programmes and question the relevance of positivistic science while introducing a set of parameters not previously considered (regimes, social and cultural factors and actors, non-state entities)(15) . IR first entered into a "first debate", in which realism competed with idealism in the late 1930s and early 1940s, then a "second great debate", where realism was questioned by behaviouralism in the late 1950s and 1960s. These views have not disappeared and remain competing references among specialists, even though a "third debate" in IR has broadened the epistemological framework, offering more complex patterns for describing and possibly understanding international relations. The rise of transnationalism in the inter-paradigmatic debate has introduced transdisciplinary concepts such as the transnational and transcultural dimensions, while shedding new light on globalisation and its impact on political, social, or communal identities. A response is being sought here to the changing pattern of power relations, toward what appears increasingly as a form of "complex multilateralism"(16) involving a system of governance made of a plurality of actors: not only states and inter-state organizations conventionally recognized by international law, but also networks and communities diversely formalised into civil society organizations, whether on a corporate or a non-profit basis. The "multi-stakeholder" dialogues and "multilayered identities" are some of the concepts associated with multipartite governance structures, which have arisen as a novel feature of the institutional landscape.

Is IR a discipline?

If IR is heir to different traditions - history, political science, philosophy, economics, law, and a few more - it is by necessity multi- or interdisciplinary: psycho-economics is emerging as a new approach, to humanize homo oeconomicus and shed new light on consumer behaviours and group interactions; in the French school, the disciplinary base for the study of International Relations is very weak, but this disadvantage is compensated by the potential advantage of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization induced by such fields as history (Braudel), anthropology and legal studies. Within the "third debate", IR has benefited from the interpretation of political science as linguistically constituted, a topic explored by the Cambridge school(17); more recently, ethical concerns have penetrated economics to such lengths as being labelled a "moral science" by Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen.

For the sake of simplicity, the many sources of IR's development and methodology can be referred to two essential traditions: scientific and hermeneutic, which can be methodologically translated as understanding and explanation, to use Hollis and Smith's words(18). The object of IR can be presented as composed of two (very) different levels: that of states and their relations on the one hand, and that of peoples, societies and individuals on the other. This dichotomy has always opposed mutually exclusive paradigms of IR, as illustrated by the historic debate in the International Studies Association's Congress in 1973 between

- the English school, which viewed the international system as a huge spider web made of all kinds or organisations interacting with each other(19), and
- the American or German-American school, focused on Morgenthau's vision of a billiard ball game among competing states.

The former is clearly derived from a Leibnizian paradigm, whereas the latter is derived from Hume's idea of an empirical, mechanistic science based on causation/sequence as correlation between constant and predictable events. So formalized, the scientific view translates in various disciplines: in political science the state behaviour is caused by structural factors; in economics, the behaviour of firms is dictated by the "invisible hand" of market forces conceived as a system; in discourse analysis, meaning is constructed in accordance with underlying social and cultural value. In all cases, researchers presuppose as in game theory the existence of hidden, underlying structures which justify the Platonic view of a search after truth, the deciphering of Galileo's "Book of Nature".



The question arising from this state of things is: can the logic of IR be reduced to this exclusive dichotomy, is any intermediate or constructed discourse, any "third debate" doomed to be "irrelevant", as claimed by Emmanuel Navon?(20) Navon's argument is inherently contradictory in so far as, if "facts are facts" as vehemently stressed in his conclusion, there is no reason whatsoever to engage into the "history of interpretation", as he however does, and no need to summon scepticism either, as this precisely implies the rejection of universal objectivity, tolerating and even inviting plural interpretations of what can be initially posed as facts of the real world. Any claim to the contrary would be closer to dogma than to science, if we recognize that science, far from stating ultimate verities, is constantly open to falsification. If the "first" (conservative v. revolutionary approach to human nature) and "second" (rationalist v. non-rationalist approach to human knowledge) debates are still relevant, as Nevon rightly claims, it should also be recognized that scepticism, reminiscent of Michel de Montaigne, will precisely allow for uncertainty, ambiguities and disagreement, that is for the plural beliefs explored today by cultural anthropology and the conflict of interpretations articulated by Paul Ricoeur(21).

A rigid contrast cannot be maintained if general trends and inductive generalizations are submitted to the here and now of peculiar historical contexts, and if reason and logic have to be induced from attention to facts rather than from stark facts, and so unavoidably translated into discourse and rhetoric, a dimension emphasized by the Cambridge School in relation with the linguistic and conceptual roots of political legitimacy(22). Language and concepts are the borderline between a supposedly passive object and the cognitive approach taken by the subject, whether idiosyncratic or shaped by social and cultural patterns. The language mediation does not imply that an autonomous linguistic or conceptual reality, in a Platonic sense, takes the place of objective facts as was considered by Wittgenstein in his first writings, but that interaction between facts and observers transforms our perception and understanding of what is aimed at. As Charles Taylor has observed after many linguists, a crucial feature of conversation is that the speakers create an object that is not just an object for one that happens to be also an object for the other, but a new object for both. Charles S. Peirce's cable metaphor had already illustrated the fact that individuals are not isolated entities but permeable subjects, interrelated by as many fibres, into what is more commonly known today as networking relations(23). Instead of sets of individuals, social-political groups are better defined, in Peirce's neo-kantian semiotics, by the transindividual, trans-subjective links underlying a semiosis producing new objects, emphasizing relations within a context and resulting in an intersubjective stabilisation, an agreement about the object. The possible truth emerging from such a process transcends any single truth based on opinion and is aimed at reaching the agreement of all scientists, so producing what we deem true or real(24). It is a similar process that creates what Taylor and proponents of the critical theory associated with the names of Habermas, Adorno or Linklater call a "public" or "common" space which varies with the various uses of language(25). These views, however, found their most refined achievements after the linguistic turn in social sciences triggered by philosophers of language or linguists such as Mikhail Bakhtin and the "second" Saussure(26) and refined by the followers of these parallel, sometimes rival traditions.

The epistemological consequence is that we can no longer stick to the method of Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes, for whom the world can be explained in the language of mathematics, whose perfection - reflecting God's perfection - has survived up to the present time in the dream of an integral rationality, whether resulting in mapping the geopolitical world, in modelling the behaviours of producers and consumers in an economic system, in the same way as biologists decipher the human genome. Attempts at describing the rational behaviour of individuals have also been made through structural approaches, as in various fields of human and social sciences inspired by linguistics. However, both methodological individualism and radical structuralism have failed to describe more than very specific features of human processes, because reductionist approaches leave no room for the interaction of objects and subjects in the constitution of knowledge. The lessons learned with the epistemological shift associated with Popper's idea that any scientific hypothesis needs to be falsifiable do not imply that this scientific method is necessarily and generally transferable into the realm of human and social sciences. After all, even the Popperian turn has shown that science is not in search of truth but is an ever-provisional building of propositions open to falsification.

The consequence is triple:

- any "true" theory becomes a heuristic tool whose usefulness is proportional to the opening up of the new research programmes;
- the question of "levels of reality" becomes a question of "levels of analysis", where the analyst is both the observer and the creator of these levels.
- Disciplinary fields are intersected with cross issues such as violence and human rights, and philosophical questions related to moral values and ethics.

The "analysis" approach is particularly essential in that it acknowledges that knowledge is not passively received, as in discovering an ontological reality, but actively built up by the cognizing subject. The function of cognition is adaptive and serves the organization of the experiental world, allowing for a transdisciplinary picture different from a mere combination of data extracted from various disciplines, as the case would be with a strict interdisciplinary approach.

This state of affairs opens adaptable ways to research in so far as, in a first stage, it allows to combine various levels as seems appropriate from among legal, geographical, historical, economic, social, anthropological or even psychoanalytical studies(27). Such flexible interdisciplinarity is the precondition for a possible transdisciplinarity, which in a second stage will emerge as the global interpretation/understanding of the selected data derived from the crossing of disciplinary boundaries. In this process, the acting subject/researcher is responsible for the experiential world it constructs. Ethics, therefore, cannot be avoided: it will be associated with the constructed representation of the world.

For these reasons, a transdisciplinary method appears as both continuous and discontinuous. In the wake of an uncompleted or possibly overcompleted modernity (through the overwhelming power of reason), today's challenge may be the re-integration of both traditions of modernity, epitomized by Descartes and Montaigne, to build not so much a fuzzy "post-modern" world than a reconciled "transmodernity". The first source of modernity belongs to the Platonic-Kantian tradition, whose universal principles can be found in the idea of world federalism as well as of scientific or economic rationality. The second is commonly governed by emotional appeals, a "sentimental education" à la Rorty(28) in the tradition of David Hume and William James, whose practical expression may vary from a benevolent multiculturalism oblivious of the dogmatic biases of the community to the irenic forms of a homogeneous cyberspace. The transdisciplinary way views these two poles not so much as articulated around Vasquez's Archimedian point, which cancels out dynamic tensions by reducing them to a neutral stance, a status quo antes mediated by the zero value(29), but as a complex arrangement of asymmetrical, tensorial relations that can be figured out as the string of Heraclites's bow(30). To be effective, the development of future international institutions will rely on such mediations, so much so as these are constantly threatened with dissolving into standardizing rules, from the pervading lex mercatoria to a proclaimed "return of the state" buttressed on the expansion of the sole superpower and fed on the waning of international law. In this perspective, dialogue and dialogical communication need to be reinterpreted as more than a mere literary genre, to put into practice a global view that predicates universal references on the general, that characterizes universal reason by cultural diversity. In a cosmopolis predicated on cultures taken as historical realities, International Relations is invited to conceive of global relations on the basis on the impure reason associated with cultural practices, rather than on a predefined universal matrix derived from "true" social-political realities.

Whatever the scope of this challenge, it will have to address the two faces, rather than phases, of history. This is a formidable future indeed, where the Utopian quest for the societas maxima projected by the Stoics beyond the City-state, and pursued through Kant's insight of a Cosmopolis ordered into political units which would not be bellicose and would recoil from war, will remain closely associated with the turmoil of its dwellers. If an «&nbspoverturn&nbsp» of international relations can be envisaged, it is likely to be through the complex intermingling of the international and the transnational, the ebb and flow of both orientations. The ensuing pattern will not point to any post-modernity, but to a rearrangement of both the rational and the reasonable(31) sources that replace social and political institutions into their cultures, that redefine modernity into a fragile and subtle casting of its multiple players, not protected from possible eruptions or disruptions.

© Paul Ghils (Editor of Transnational Associations and Lecturer at the Haute Ecole de Bruxelles/Institut supérieur de traducteurs et interprètes, Belgium)


(1) TRAC (2000); Tangled Up In Blue: Corporate Partnerships at the United Nations,

(2) The Breakdown of Nations, Green Books/New European Publications, 2001 [1957].

(3) The Empire Expands Wider and Still Wider, Le Monde Diplomatique in English, 11 June 2003.

(4) The post-modern state, in: Re-Ordering the World, edited by Mark Leonard, The Foreign Policy Centre, London, 2002.

(5) HELD Davis; Return to the state of nature, , 20 March 2003.

(6) HALL John A.; The Return of the State, Science Research Council, New York, 2002; MERLE Marcel; Le retour de l'Etat, La Croix, 21 November 2002.

(7) Because this country was conceived by its founders as a new kind of nation and, indeed, a new kind of state - one based not on the combined accidents of demography and geography, but on the combined exertion of political will and championship of political ideas (TALBOTT Strobe; War in Iraq, revolution in America, The Whitehead Lecture, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, October 9, 2003.

(8) SALLMANN Jean-Michel; Nouvelle histoire des relations internationales, vol. 1: Géopolitique du XVIe siècle 1490-1618), Paris, Seuil, 2003.

(9) Cf. MAFFESOLI Michel; La transfiguration du politique, Grasset, 1992  see also The Ethic of Aesthetics, Theory, Culture & Society, 8 (1), 1991, 7-20; OUTHWAITE William; Toward a European civil society?, , p. 7

(10) Cosmopolis. TheHidden Agenda of Modernity, Chicago: The University of Chicaco Press, 1990. See also Return to Reason, Cambridge (USA)/London: Harvard University Press, 2001.

(11) CHARNOVITZ Steve; The emergence of democratic participation in global governance, Paris, 1919, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, p. 47.

(12) The Law of Peoples, in: Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley (eds.); On Human Rights, New York: Basic Books, 1993.

(13) Cf. Europe as a dynamic process, a moving concept in&nbsp: ChristianeVillain-Gandossi, BOCHMANN Klaus et al.; Le concept de l'Europe dans le processus de la CSCE/The Concept of Europe in the Process of the CSCE, Gunter Narr, Tübingen, 1990, Wolton, 2001; Penser l'Europe à ses frontières, texts présentés par GUENOUN Daniel et NANCY Jean-Luc, Editions de l'Aube, 1993.

(14) In the words of Stanley Hoffmann, IR is an American social science ("An American social science: International Relations", Daedalus, 106/3, 1977, pp. 41-60.

(15) Considered as the conventional, contemporary method based on the criteria of accuracy, falsifiability, explanatory power, progressive research programmes, consistency with other research areas and limited use of basic concepts (Hollis and Smith; Explaining and Understanding International Relations, and Booth and Smith; International Theory today).

(16) O'BRIEN Robert; «Complex multilateralism: the global economic institutions and global social movements nexus», paper presented at the conference on «Non-State Actors and Authority in the Global System», 1 November 1997.

(17) The Cambridge perspective can be viewed as a political avatar of previous attempts by Austin and Wittgenstein to define a new form of realism where the world is enshrined in ordinary language. In turn, these echo the rejection by Quine; Word and Object, 1960, of the analytical/empirical distinction, which exposes the myth of «meaning» and concludes to the indetermination of translation. Beyond the empiricism/realism tension addressed by Quine, the world can be thougt as immanent to ordinary language, the polity appearing as, albeit partially, governed by or channelled by a linguistic mediation.

(18) Hollis, Martin and Smith, Steve; Explaining and Understanding International Relations, Oxford, Clarendon, 1990.

(19) William Outhwaite observed that "On the issue of compatibilities and incompatibilities of various structural and cultural forms, Max Weber borrowed from Goethe what remains perhaps the most useful concept for addressing these issues: the chemical concept of elective affinity (Wahlverwandtschaft)".

(20) "The 'third debate' revisited", Review of International studies, 27, 2001, 611-625.

(21) u texte à l'action, (De l'interprétation), Seuil, Paris, 1984.

(22) Cf. BELL Duncan S.A.; The Cambridge School and world politics. , 2001.

(23) This semiotic framework is basically different from Charles W. Morris's behaviourist conception, whose cultural underpinnings are obvious if they are related to the utilitarian, analytical notions of the technical-scientific views of the time. The latter could be correlated with the modular concept of current cognitivism, breaking the object into the various competence levels to which it applies (syntactic, semantic, pragmatic) (Cf. "Signs, language and behavior", Writings on the General Theory of Signs, Mouton, 1971).

(24) Collected Papers, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1931-1958, 5, p. 407.

(25) Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity, CUP, 1989, p. 35.

(26) This is no longer the Saussure of langue but of parole, without which the social use of language, if not its semiotic openings, would not be conceivable. See comments of Simon Bouquet and Rudolf Engler (eds.) on Saussurean texts recently rediscovered in Ecrits de linguistique générale, Gallimard, Paris, 2002. This orientation was later furthered by linguists (Benvéniste, Jakobson), philosophers of ordinary language (Austin, Searle, Grice) and philosophers of communication and pragmatics (Habermas, Apel, Jacques).

(27) Cf. Daniel Sibony; Proche-Orient, psychanalyse d'un conflit, Seuil, 2002. In: La Psychanalyse à l'épreuve de l'islam ,Paris, Aubier, 2002, Fehti Benslama encovers the constitutive repression of the islamic religion by exploring its, origins and analysing its most visible contemporary crisis: the islamist movement.

(28) See for example Human rights, rationality, and sentimentality, in: Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley (eds.); On Human Rights, Basic Books, New York, 1993, p. 111-135.

(29) The post-positivist debate: reconstructing scientific enquiry and international relations theory after Enlightenment's fall, in: Ken Booth and Steve Smith; International relations Theory Today, Cambridge, Polity Press, p. 217.

(30) As elegantly explained by Jean-Jacques Wunenburger in: Le paradigme de l'équilibre : lectures hippocratique et archimédienne, Les études philosophiques, 4/1986, 529-540.

(31) In so far as «reasonable» is not equated with «irrational» or «non-rational».

1.6. The Unifying Method of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences: The Method of Transdisciplinarity

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For quotation purposes:
aul Ghils (Bruxelles, Belgium): International Relations and its Languages: A Transdisciplinary Perspective. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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